Thursday, July 24, 2014

Betsy: German Puffs, or A Not-So-Miserable Failure

Ladies and Gents, we have our first failure. And I'm utterly delighted by it.

For this challenge, I was very torn about what I wanted to make. I had a big case of the undecideds. Couldn't find a recipe that really stuck with me. Until I stumbled upon German puffs from Directions for Cookery by everybody's favorite busybody, Eliza Leslie.

I found other recipes for German puffs in my other period cookery books on Google books, but Miss Leslie's directions seemed the most promising and had the most information about amounts of ingredients. As I have done with pretty much every challenge so far, I halved the recipe.

Here I should mention that I have never taken a cooking class - not even a home ec course in school. The principles and science of cooking elude me. I gleefully flail my way through baking, learning more from trial and error than I do from reading a recipe. I also happen to have a good friend, Sarah, who is a food scientist and is only a phone call away. She'll feature later in the story.

First things first, I melted the butter into the milk. I used 2% for "rich milk" (and also because that's what I had on hand).

Next, I beat the eggs and mixed them into the milk, alternating with flour. This created a rich, eggy batter. It reminded me of a very thin pancake batter, almost crepe-like but more eggy. The cinnamon and nutmeg looked really pretty swirled in the batter.

Now, I have plenty of teacups, but I didn't want to test whether or not they were oven safe. So I went with some custard cups, figuring that was probably a good approximation.Realizing that I'd never made anything like this before, I sent one lone scout in on his own, at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Bon voyage, little buddy!

He never even set up. I didn't even take a picture of him because he was so shameful. This is when the phone call to Sarah occurred. She confirmed my thought of bumping the temperature up to 425. I would have gone straight to 450, but they are so small I was worried about burning. I popped another test cup in, and left him in for 20 minutes.

This was slightly more successful! You can see the top has developed a really pretty, custard-y skin and a lovely color, and puffed up quite nicely. Unfortunately, it was still really goopy. At this point, I started to wonder if there wasn't too much liquid in the mix, and that was prevented from setting.

Now that's more like it!
So then I put all four of the rest of the cups in. These looked even worse coming out of the oven, and fell almost immediately, but were probably the most successful in the end - the ones in the frosted glass cups could be turned out and put on a plate, like Miss Leslie directed, and I even tried a taste of them - yummy, but the texture was kind of funny. Goopy. Very goopy.

Pretty, but...goopy.

The Challenge: "Foreign"Foods 

The Recipe: Eliza Leslie, Directions for Cookery 

The Date/Year and Region: 1840/United States

How Did You Make It: See above

Time to Complete: An hour, but probably less for someone more successful 

Total Cost: Negligible. Probably about $4 and would make at least two dozen with the halved recipe.

How Successful Was It?: "Successful" is so subjective. Was it something I'd serve to someone else? Probably not. It's best I didn't set up a taste-tester. But we learn more from our failures than from our successes, and I learned a lot through this process, and if I had to fall flat on my face with something, this was a relatively inexpensive failure. I'm rather delighted with the whole trial-and-error process! Melissa, Sarah and others can attest to the fact that I was gleeful through the whole thing.
I have some theories as to why this didn't set up: it's possible I should have used whole milk instead of 2%, and it's also possible that something wonky happened when I halved the recipe. It's also entirely possible that they should have been baked at 450. However, I think the most likely culprit is that there were too many eggs in the recipe. I used four, and perhaps they were too large and there was too much liquid for them to really set up. I'm definitely entertaining suggestions for what to do next time (because I definitely WILL make it again) so if you're some sort of custard/dumpling genius, please do chime in with your thoughts in the comments. 

How Accurate Is It?: Woefully accurate; except, as always, I use an electric oven and stove.
And don't worry, Gentle Reader: this story has a happy ending. The oven was already heated up, and I had some homemade pizza dough on hand, so I made myself a homemade pizza. And that was quite victorious.

Nom nom nom

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Challenge 3 Finished - On To Challenge 4!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: we have really amazing, fun, creative participants in our challenges.

When I picked this timing for the "This Day In History" challenge, I was being strategic. There are a lot of  big-name events that happened in history during this fortnight, like the Battle of Gettysburg, the American Declaration of Independence, and several big events in the Jacobite Wars. Henry VIII was very busy getting married and excommunicated, Vermont became the first American colony to abolish slavery, Joan of Arc's heresy charges were annulled, and Anne Frank went into hiding.

So, there were a lot of choices, from the straight-forward to the nuanced, and not only did our participants pick a really eclectic and interesting selection of events to commemorate, they were super creative in coming up with dishes that were inspired by these events. Here's a selection of the historical events commemorated in the past two weeks:

July 2nd - A really delicious recipe for Marlborough Pie was published
July 4th - Battle of Gettysburg
July 4th - Charles Dodgeson introduced Alice in Wonderland
July 4th - T.G. Masaryk proposed breaking up the Austro-Hungarian Empire
July 5th - Hormel introduced Spam
July 6th - Louis Armstrong passed away 
July 9th - George Washington reads the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Army
July 10th - Wyoming's statehood
July 10th - Babe Ruth made his Major League debut 
July 12th - United States Centennial Exhibition

I know some of you were pretty stumped, and some of you had to get pretty creative, so you all should be proud of yourselves for tackling a tough challenge! Well done!

Next Up: "Foreign" Foods

We're not talking actual ethnic foodways - that's a challenge coming later this year. This challenge is all about foods that are named after other countries or cultures. Make some French dressing, or French beans; maybe some Charlotte Russe for dessert? What about Welsh cakes, peas cooked in the English fashion, Hessian soup, Irish stew, Sunderland pudding...of course, much depends on where you are and what is "foreign" to you. Given how this last challenge went, I am thrilled to see what everyone comes up with.

Happy cooking!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Betsy - Challenge Three: This Day in History

For the This Day in History challenge, I decided to make an Irish dish to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, a pivotal moment in Irish history. I am of Irish descent, and I studied abroad in Ireland in college, so to say this was up my alley is a bit of an understatement. This choice caused a couple issues; Irish history is notoriously sketchy up to the late 18th century, as Irish history relied heavily on the oral tradition, so primary source documentation is hard to find; the Battle of the Boyne occured in 1690, before the Gregorian calendar was adopted, meaning that the "date" it happened is a sketchy concept; and Irish history and culture has been heavily mythologized, making it difficult to separate the fact from the corned-beef-and-cabbage-lace-curtain-Irish fiction.

Long story short, I solved these problems with the following decisions:
  • I utilized recipes and resources from the 19th century, as these were actually documentable; they didn't go back to the original date of the event, but there's no rule that says they have to.
  • I picked July 11th; the original battle occurred on July 1st of the Julian calendar, which corresponds to July 11th in the new style.
  • I went with the most traditional dish I could find, relied basically zero on secondary sources, and trusted my instincts as to what I know about Irish culture.
For a dish, I picked colcannon. When I was in Ireland, I ate colcannon several times, but I've never cooked it before. It is a very traditional dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. Although potatoes were introduced to Ireland before the Battle of the Boyne, they really didn't take off as the staple food we now associate with Irish culture until some years later. But, we've already established I'm working within the 19th century, when potatoes were well-established in Irish foodways.

I checked a couple different recipes and sources for info on colcannon. Here's an excerpt from Tubber Derg, a book of Irish stories published in 1869:

I found similar references to how colcannon was eaten in other sources. Later recipes from the 1870s and 1880s have instructions for colcannon that sound like fancy puddings, involving eggs and breadcrumbs and even cheese crusts.

This recipe, from The Cooks Oracle, dated 1825, seems slightly more traditional, though still baked in a mould. Recipes seem to call for spinach, leeks, or cabbage interchangeably.

Also, really plain. Whatever. It's Irish.

The Challenge: This Day In History

The Recipe: Colcannon (No. 108) from The Cook's Oracle

The Date/Year and Region: 1825/England

How Did You Make It: I did exactly what the recipe said. I boiled potatoes (probably about two pounds?) and half a head of cabbage (shredded) separately. I drained off the cabbage and potatoes, put the cabbage in the same pan as the potatoes, and mashed away. I added half a stick (4 T) of butter, plus salt and pepper to taste (probably about a tsp of each, but I didn't measure). I put the whole thing in a casserole dish, scored the top, and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes.

Time to Complete: Hard to say - the potatoes refused to cook quickly, and I was working on several dishes at once. Maybe half an hour?

Total Cost: The potatoes were about $1, the cabbage was $.32, and the butter was negligible. This made about 5 or 6 servings - super, super economical.

How Successful Was It?:  You'd think mashed potatoes with cabbage would be pretty "meh", right? It was actually quite tasty. The Gentleman Friend who taste-tested declared it very good (then again he's not really at liberty to give his honest opinion, but he insisted it was good). I'm going to say that putting in that much butter will make anything taste good.

How Accurate Is It?: Besides the accommodations/creativity listed at the beginning of this, I'd say I did a damn good job of keeping close to the original recipe. I even resisted the urge to add milk to the thing. 

The finished dish, out of the oven.

With the rest of the meal - spring green salad and beef roast. Sorta Irish?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Melissa: An Independence Day Cake of Three Centuries

For this challenge (This Day in History), I had originally planned on making an early 1800's bride cake for some random event or the other, but after Jenni posted her masterpiece for Challenge 1, I knew that I would be best off finding another challenge.  I was invited to a fun little half-day event at Historic Tunnel Mill just outside of Charlestown, IN for an Independence Day celebration and reenactor party afterwards.  Of course, I needed something to bring to the party!  I wanted to find a dessert appropriate not only for the HFF challenge, but also for the time period of the event (1776) and having something to do with the Fourth of July.

I did a little research and found that Independence Day was declared a national holiday in 1870, almost a century after the country first declared independence.  I began by looking up recipes from between 1869 and 1879, using good old Google Books, and found an interesting Independence Day cake recipe from a ladies' journal of 1869.  I hesitated in using it though, because you don't want to be that person who brings an 1860's cake to a 1770's party, am I right?

I continued searching and came across Martha Washington's Great Cake recipe, and wow that thing is huge--all in all it contains around 25 pounds of ingredients!--but that would have required me candying orange and lemon peel and somehow tracking down currants in my area, plus doing extra research so that I didn't rely simply on the modernized recipe.  Plus, the Great Cake is basically the same as the Bride Cake I was going to make originally, and it would be super heavy in the unairconditioned historic house we were going to be convened in.  So, I looked back at the recipe I found in The Mother's Journal, July, 1869:

See that last line?  I had completely missed it the first go 'round, but it turns out this recipe was (at least originally) sourced from the 1770's after all!  I found the loophole!  Not only could I make a cake that historically was made for Independence Day in the 19th century, it was also period correct for the 18th century!  So, for this challenge I made a 21st century interpretation of a 19th century interpretation of an 18th century cake.  SO COOL RIGHT?!?

Of course, I had to add a little patriotic flair for my Washington Cake

The Challenge: #3 This Day in History

The Recipe: The Mother's Journal, July 1869 via Google Books

The Date/Year and Region: America, 1869

How Did You Make It: With an electric hand mixer I creamed the one pound of butter, then added in the one pound of powdered sugar, mixed in the pound of flour, beat the pound of eggs (8 eggs since modern eggs are heavier now) separate from the butter-flour-sugar mixture, then beat those in.  Once that was smooth, I beat in the gill (4 ounces or 1/2 cup) of brandy, the zest of one lemon, and two teaspoons of nutmeg!  I baked it at 350 until done in the middle, around 45 minutes (but don't count me on that one).  Once it was cooled I topped it off with a simple glaze of lemon juice and powdered sugar.

Time to Complete: 30 minutes prep time and 1 hour baking time.

Total Cost: Around $7 because of the amount of butter and eggs, but everything else was in the pantry already

How Successful Was It?: It was absolutely delightful!  I think the nutmeg was a little less flavorful than it could have been since it had been in our pantry for God knows how long, and it could have stood to be a little more lemony, but all in all it was a hit.  I took both cakes to the party and came back with about 1/8 of one of the cakes still left!

How Accurate Is It?: I'm not sure how early commercialized powdered sugar was available, so it is possible that the cornstarch included in my powdered sugar is not exactly period correct.  I also used pre-ground nutmeg instead of grinding my own nutmeg, and used a hand mixer rather than doing the deed myself.  I would call it about 90% accurate!

The event itself was delightful, a very good time with fun people (one of whom discovered that her homemade orange liqueur tasted amazing on the cake!), and my beau was given both his first 1770's "battle" experience along with going on a reproduction boat for the first time and shooting cannons on said boat for the first time!  We always have a great time at Tunnel Mill, it is such a magical and beautiful place.  

I can't wait to see all of the creations for this challenge!  Happy cooking and eating!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Round Two Done, Onto Round Three!

I'll admit, putting a challenge for making soups and sauces in the middle of June maybe wasn't the smartest planning on our parts. I mean, most kinds of cooking/baking involve heat, but soups tend to take forever and then you eat them hot. It was probably great for those of you in the southern hemisphere, or in more temperate climes; for those baking in the heat (pun fully intended), I hope you didn't turn into soup yourself.

I'd like to give a shout-out to Isabella of Isabella's Project Diary for her interpretation of chet soup, which is an almond soup from the 15th century. She didn't even know what chet soup really was, going into this. That kind of adventuresome attitude gets major points in my book. Also, it looks and sounds delicious. Keep on rocking, Isabella.

Also have to give props to Jeanette and Patrick of Mid-Century Meals. They're preparing all their meals within the mid-20th century time frame. This is not an era known for culinary masterpieces (lime jello with carrots on a bed of cottage cheese, anyone?), but they're bravely sallying forth and they get tons of kudos from me for tackling the challenge. For this challenge, they made a tomato and orange soup from 1950 which they say was a big hit! Way to go, Patrick and Jeanette!

Next up: This Day In History. We're asking everyone to cook a dish inspired by momentous occasions in history that occurred on the day you cook them! You'd be surprised at just how much has happened in late June/early July throughout history! This website can help you find some events, if you need inspiration, and there are lots more like that one around the internet. Get creative!

Happy cooking!